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  • Writer's pictureTomás S. Ó Ceallaigh

#Microadventure: Swimming in English Channel in January

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

Dark skies over Southbourne beach: Bournemouth, England.

It was one of those mornings where the sun had barely made an appearance. The sky was thick with low-lying clouds and the air had quite a chill to it. I stood hugging my cup of tea for warmth as I waited at Clapham Junction for the Bournemouth train.

On a bit of a whim, I had messaged my sister the night before, inviting myself down for the evening. Her and her partner are in the process of relocating to the Southbourne area of the city and it seemed like good enough excuse to escape London for the night.

A few months prior, I had bought myself a copy of Alistair Humphreys' Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes. The whole concept behind the book is that to have an adventure, sometimes the quickest, easiest and most satisfying ones can be found on your own doorstep.

Taking inspiration from Humphreys' books and acting on the information that my sister's partner had joined a sea swimming group on Facebook, I had half-jokingly enquired as to whether I should bring my swimming trunks.

Twenty-four hours later, I was stood on Southbourne beach staring at a cloudy sky and a reasonably calm gunmetal sea. At the time, I was fully clothed in my Regatta parka, a keffiyeh wrapped around my neck, thick chinos on and massive walking boots, with my swimming trunks underneath.

My sister's partner asked one last time whether we were mad, and anticipating something stupid was about to happen, a few dog walkers slowed down to watch. There was no getting out of it now as we slowly got into the sea, having cast off all non-swimming related attire.

Despite the fact that the sea temperature was mildly warmer than the air temperature, it was safe to say that it was still ridiculously cold. At first, my legs seemed fine with it, but as I put my body under the water, the arctic water seemed to try and push out any air in my lungs.

Anticipating that this would happen, I avoided any form of cold water shock by breathing slowly and starting to paddle out a few strokes of front crawl. With only a gentle swell and small waves hitting the shore, it felt perfectly safe for some winter swimming.

Swimming in the English Channel in Southbourne, England.

After around two minutes, my sister's partner was done with the chilly water and I followed shortly afterwards, jumping into the relative warmth of a poncho-style swimming towel. A few minutes later I was warm (except for my toes) and fully dressed again.

Wild swimming in the English Channel in January is probably at the slightly more absurd end of the Microadventure spectrum, but done in calm seas and with at least one other person around, it was an amusing way of making your body feel alive in for the year ahead.

Essential Kit:

  • Swimming gear - don't go in fully clothed even if it is cold. It is dangerous!

  • A poncho-style swimming towel - available on Amazon.

  • A dry bag to keep your clothes in case of a rogue wave! - available in most camping and adventure shops.

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Tomás S. Ó Ceallaigh
Tomás S. Ó Ceallaigh
Feb 05, 2019

Very true, but I’m yet to try the ‘inner-tubing down a river’ Microadventure yet. Thanks for taking the time to read it though and for the inspiration!


Alastair Humphreys
Alastair Humphreys
Feb 05, 2019

"Wild swimming in the English Channel in January is probably at the slightly more absurd end of the Microadventure spectrum" 😂

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